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Blanca Treviño

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A Fuller Picture: Mexico's Many Layers

Posted: 02/ 6/2012 12:19 pm

Mexico is making headlines, and it's for the wrong reasons.

A country that I am proud to call home, Mexico is a vibrant, progressive and prosperous nation. Yet, the flood of one-dimensional news stories about Mexico has masked these very positive attributes. While it is undeniably true that the "war on drugs" poses one of Mexico's biggest challenges since the revolution of the 1900s, this single brush stroke fails to paint an entire picture.

Capturing the mosaic of Mexico's rich history and bright future requires much more texture and complexity. Like every country, Mexico's story cannot be defined by a single aspect or indicator, and much less by media perception. The Happy Planet Index (HPI) 2.0, published by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), measures life expectancy, life satisfaction and per capita ecological footprint. In its latest edition, HPI 2.0 ranks Mexico the happiest country, not only in North America, but in the entire northern hemisphere. One reason for this, I'm convinced, exists in the fact that family values and traditions are often a source of happiness. Dan Buettner, author of the book Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way, designates my home state of Nuevo Leon as the happiest region of Mexico. He cites:

"Their definition of family [in Nuevo Leon] is about an order of magnitude bigger than a typical definition of family. Theirs includes not only kids and moms and dads, but also cousins and second cousins, aunts and uncles, godparents. And that does some helpful things ... What you have going in Mexico, these big families, they provide a financial safety net, a buffer from stress. They do suffer from all kinds of stressful things in their lives, but they have a way to shed the stress--family helps."

For those that have never had the opportunity to embrace life in Mexico, it may be difficult to understand how strong this family fabric truly is. However, the strength we derive from our families is a resilient platform for our future. Today, more than 20.3 million people in Mexico are between the ages of 15 and 24 - a number larger than the population of the Nordic countries combined. As these family-supported youth continue to join the workforce, Mexico is poised for large-scale economic growth.

Moreover, the 2010 census shows us that Mexicans are the healthiest, most successful and most educated that they have ever been. According to the World Bank, the overall life expectancy in Mexico is age 76, higher than that of Brazil, Russia, India and China, and, more importantly, nine years more than what it was in 1981. Mexico's education has also greatly improved in the last twenty years -- fewer than 2% of today's youths are illiterate, compared with a third of those ages 75 and older.

In many ways, Mexico is a much stronger country than ever before. While awareness of one's weaknesses is important for growth and self-improvement, a comparison with the past may provide a much-needed case for optimism: we must use a wider lens to capture Mexico's complex, colorful story.